A reading list for young lawyers

Jill’s comment to the post about Letters to a young scientist gave me an idea. I would like to solicit suggestions for a reading list of books that young lawyers might find helpful.  It does not matter whether the book relates to the law. The book may well be something entirely unrelated to law, but worthy of a young lawyer’s consideration. Fiction or non-fiction is fine–it doesn’t matter.

So, if you  have a suggestion for a book or even several books that young lawyers should read, put it in a comment to this post.  If I get enough comments, I will put up a post with a compilation of the suggestions.

And, let’s use a bit of a format. Nothing fancy. Something like, title, author, and several descriptive sentences about the book and why you think young lawyers should read it.

I will start.

  1. The Immense Journey. Loren Eiseley. In my opinion, the best book ever written. Young lawyer’s need perspective. Eiseley provides it in a book on natural history and time with prose so beautiful it can make you weep.
  2. Jack Aubrey Novels. Patrick O’Brian. Twenty novels on the friendship of ship’s captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent. Young lawyers need to read for fun. Life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson’s navy provides the background for the best historical novels ever written.
  3. A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis. Written after his wife’s death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss.  I hope young lawyers will never need this book. Unfortunately, I did. In some ways, this very short book saved my life.

I look forward to your suggestions.


28 responses

  1. On the non-inspirational side of things: Lawrence Friedman, History of American Law. Friedman understands American law as a product of historical influences and necessity (e.g., why Blackstone? because the colonists didn’t have many books, but they had his…), and the book is immensely helpful in navigating the common-law thicket — and the general project — of 1L year.

  2. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Gives trial lawyers insights into understanding how to (and why they should) listen to their subconscious (or “gut” as you call it). Excellent discussion on our inherent biases, in an extraordinarily fun read.

  3. 1. The Boy who was Raised as a Dog, by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz. at a certain level lawyering is about dealing with the human condition and this book sheds some important insights on such.

    2. Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, by Nate Blakeslee. truth is indeed stranger (and more disturbing) than fiction.

    3. Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh. a young sociologist sets out to learn about urban poverty and receives the sort of real education you can only get on the streets. see comment to #1.

    4. Fool, by Christopher Moore. lawyers need to lighten up a bit from time to time and what better way than with a bawdy spoof of King Lear.

  4. Just a law student myself, but older than my law school peers so perhaps I may tentatively suggest: Paul Rogat Loeb’s “Soul of a Citizen” and Howard Gardner at al, “Good Work”.

    I also find the essays of Emerson to be the right size for quick reading, and a wonderful antidote for the day-to-day enervation of law school.

  5. In no particular order:
    “A Civil Action”, Jonathan Harr
    “Gunning for Justice”, Gerry Spence
    “Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned”, John Farrell
    “My Life in Court” , Louis Nizer
    “The Coldest Winter” David Halberstam

  6. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean — Very good prose.

    The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck — Insight into ethics, poignant story.

    The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris — Great writing. Get inspired, never be lazy again.

  7. The first four books are about lawyers and cases. A Civil Action is proof truth is always better than fiction, Spence, Darrow and Nizer – just great lawyers-
    “A Coldest Winter” is an excellent book about the Korean War, so many made extraordinary sacrifices so we can walk into courtrooms every day.

  8. Will definitely check out the Roosevelt bio. I am very fond of Maclean, and his prose is certainly something for writers to aspire to!

  9. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. This book falls into the category of books to be read for fun. This is a beautifully written story of a Hasidic Jewish family in Brooklyn and the cultural and religious struggle between a father, who is a leader in his religious community, and his son, a gifted artist. Any book by Potok would fall within my recommendations.

  10. I loved the Jack Aubrey novels! I started reading them right after taking the bar exam. The way they were written reminded me of what good prose was supposed to look like. They also helped me remember the importance of writing like a human being after being forced to read countless mind-numbing casebooks for class.

  11. CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and Weber’s Safehold series. Both explore cultural evolution, under the influence of outside culture and in isolation.

    Robert Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone series, along with John MacDonald’s Travis McGee series.

    de Vattel’s The Law of Nations, John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (his first was just an anti-Filmer diatribe), Rousseau’s The Social Contract and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, in pretty much that order ( the latter two not as legal documents, but as historical ones) for an overview of the recent evolution of Western thinking about natural law and its relation to practical government (with Rousseau providing an interesting dead-end offshoot).

    Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution.

    Sidney Painter’s Feudalism and Liberty for some different ideas on evolution of law.

    Abraham Kaplan’s The Conduct of Inquiry.

    Herb Croly’s The Promise of American Life

    The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, for an example of how not to do it.

    Eric Hines

  12. Today’s young lawyers want visualizations, too: may I suggest a couple of movies?

    Independence Day with Will Smith.

    The Patriot with Mel Gibson

    The Gladiator with Russell Crowe. There really is evil in the world.

    Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon. And there’s honor and dedication, too.

  13. “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo — A powerful read that describes the effort of a man with no voice to communicate with the world. Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood Ten” who was blacklisted by McCarthyism. He was also one of the great American screen writers (he wrote “Spartacus”). If possible, get a modern copy that contains all 3 of the preface/introductions that Trumbo added over the years. Lawyers who wish to represent clients of any stripe should understand the frustration of the voiceless needing to be heard.

    “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess — Read the original (complete) version of the book (not the truncated version that Kubrick made into the movie). While the movie is fantastic in its own right, the book is a brilliant examination of the tension between the restlessness and desires of youth and the State’s need for conformity. The “missing” 21st chapter ties it all together in a way that the movie did not.

    “Columbine” by Dave Cullen — In addition to being a fantastic piece of investigative journalism, this book does a remarkable job of explaining how and why the “common knowledge” of America is mostly wrong, even (especially?) about recent events of historical import. Even in an age where news trucks were on the scene within minutes, and every step of the investigation was supposed to be public, the number of “myths” that persist about what happened at Columbine is hair-raising. If we are all so wrong about something that happened so recently, imagine how little we truly understand what was going on at, e.g., the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It will also make you think twice about “remedies” that seemed obvious but have not worked out so well.

    (I also endorse the Aubrey/Maturin books. They are particularly great to have on a Kindle!)

  14. First, some movies –

    1776 – Yes, it’s a musical, but still, a lot of the tension and drama of bringing a new nation into existence does manage to show through. ( admittedly with the usual amount of artistic license )

    A Few Good Men – stellar performances by Tom Cruise & Jack Nicholson

    The Verdict – Paul Newman as an alcoholic attorney

    Now, some books –

    Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper – Science Fiction, but there’s a court case involving the dividing line between sapience and non-sapience.

    The Alan Lewrie novels by Dewey Lambdin – naval stories along the lines of Hornblower and Aubrey/Maturin. Along the way, there will be a nice little court case concerning Lewrie’s theft/freeing of 24 black slaves.

    The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – fantasy; no legal stuff, but damn good writing, IMHO

  15. Every U.S. Supreme Court opinion issued during your first 5 years as a lawyer. You will learn the basics of statutory interpretation, administrative law, equal protection, due process, the Fourth Amendment, and a variety of other constitutional law issues. You’ll also learn about great legal writing and how judges think (a rather valuable skill). When I write a brief, I try to write it so when the judge finishes reading it, she’ll say “I could just change the heading on this thing and make a legal opinion of it.” What better way to learn that skill than by reading the writings of leading judges?

  16. Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis – Clarence Gideon pencilled a letter from jail to the United States Supreme Court saying that his constitutional rights were violated because he was not given a lawyer at trial. The result was the biggest change in the criminal justice system in the history of this country.

  17. Ef,

    While your reading list is “cruel and unusual punishment,” it is really great advice. I would add only this caveat: The young lawyer should read those cases at the office during work hours. Make it a morning routine or something like that. All the best.


  18. Knew this would be a popular post. Great reading suggestions. Off the top of my head, law-related favorites: non-fiction, A Civil Action (Harr), fiction, The Legal Limit (Clark), Wrongful Death (Kerr) and Harmful Intent (Kerr).

  19. How could I forget!?! Anatomy of a Murder. Book and movie. A decade ago, I had lunch across from the court house (in the movie) in Marquette.

  20. In the book, “Polly” was one of my favorite characters. Reminded me of Grandpa, I think. Ours is a family firm- Gpa (dec’d), Dad,uncle, cousin, cousin, cousin….Originally, I went into archeology and geology, but ended up back here. I miss academia and fieldwork at times, but am glad I came back home. Family first.

    Re; twittering and Facebook, I think I would stick with the blog. Facebook might get you more readers, but it tends to be ephemeral interest and there are many distractions. With Twitter, at 140 characters, you better be sure you intend what you write.

  21. Long-winded today. I’m sure you know, but maybe younger readers don’t, that the Robert Traver that wrote Anatomy was actually John Voelker (1903-1991). He was a former Marquette County prosecutor and Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He came from Ishpeming. If you’re ever out that way, they have a nice iron mining museum just outside town.

  22. Sherlock Holmes — the complete canon is 4 novels and 56 stories, but that might be an overdose. I read them (all) to my then 8-year-old daughter, and only later realized that Conan Doyle’s “observation and deduction” mantra was the scientific method with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” “How the deuce did you know that, Holmes?” Read on …
    And in the same spoonful of sugar vein, I’d recommend the Letters of E.B. White over the Elements of Style.

  23. I highly recommend Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America by Leon Dash. Based on a series of Pulitzer-winning articles in the Washington Post, it examines recidivist crime and the urban underclass. It was required reading in the Criminal Justice Clinic at my law school over a decade ago. Harrowing, indeed.

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